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FORUM: QUALITATIVE

SOCIAL RESEARCH
SOZIALFORSCHUNG

Volume 3, No. 2, Art. 10


May 2002

Debunking Myths in Qualitative Data Analysis


Sharon A. Bong
Key words:

Abstract: In deciding on CAQDAS use in my research, I deliberate firstly the primacy of grounded

CAQDAS,

theory as a methodology and secondly the primacy of coding as a method. In the first section of this

qualitative

paper, I weigh the extent to which my research draws and departs from the principles and practices

research, in-depth

of grounded theory (GT). In examining the impact of cultures and religions on women's human

interviewing,

rights in Malaysia I have used for example hypothesis-guided criteria for sampling. This is strictly

sampling,

speaking not in the original sense a grounded theory approach. In the paper, I make transparent

Grounded Theory,

the extent to which GT has informed my work in enhancing the qualitative research and in

coding

highlighting the uses and limits of grounded theory, I pose the question to what extent have I demystified its paradigmatic status in CAQDAS and its homogenising effects.
In the second section, I discuss the dominance of coding in qualitative data analysis and I argue
that the pitfall of reifying coding as analyses can be avoided through a researcher's reflexivity and
agency (self-determination) combined with a pragmatic view and the use of codes as a means and
not as an end. I discuss whether CAQDAS use essentially facilitates the rigour of methodology and
the transparency of method as for example manifested in one's audit trail, and whether this in turn
constitute research that is more accountable, innovative and effective.
Table of Contents
1. Introduction
2. Methodology: Primacy of Grounded Theory
3. Method: Primacy of Coding
4. Conclusion
References
Author
Citation

1. Introduction
I had been consumed with interrogating the added advantages of using CAQDAS
or computer assisted qualitative data analysis software in comparison to a
manual-cum-word processing (electronic cut-and paste) method in creatively
managing and making sense of my data. As such, my initial questions focused on
whether or not to use CAQDAS and if so, which one, for example NUD*IST,
Nvivo and ATLAS.ti have basic code-and retrieve functions culminating in
complex theory building capacities. [1]
This myopic view however, was checked by further investigation into relevant
literature on analysing or interpreting qualitative data and the CAQDAS
Networking Project. It was also informed by peer and user feedback primarily (but
not exclusively) through email correspondence with virtual members of the QUALSOFTWARE JISCmail list (QUAL-SOFTWARE@JISCMAIL.AC.UKfor
2002 FQS http://www.qualitative-research.net/fqs/
Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research (ISSN 1438-5627)

FQS 3(2), Art. 10, Sharon A. Bong: Debunking Myths in Qualitative Data Analysis

subscribers only) and the invaluable Faculty of the Social Sciences course on
Analysing Qualitative Data at Lancaster University. [2]
The fundamental question I ought to have deliberated on instead is how to
analyse qualitative data within the methodological framework of my research
design. This facilitates an internal coherence between methodology and method
of data collection and data analysis. In other words, the option of CAQDAS and/or
a manual-cum-word processing approach is essentially a tool to assist me in
analysing qualitative data and does (and should) not constitute the analysis itself.
[3]
The moment of enlightenment for me was not receiving absolute answers to the
initial questions of whether or not to use CAQDAS and if so, which software
package. My fear of engaging with my textual documents, in particular the 27
interview transcripts (complemented with field notes, state policies and speeches
of the Prime Minister, press news and online reports, women/human rights
conventions, newsletters of non-governmental organisations and web sites) was
made visible. My inexperience in analysing qualitative data having been schooled
in literary criticism became deflected and therefore masked my preoccupation
bordering on obsession with CAQDAS use. I was in danger of legitimating my
analysis by claiming allegiance to groundbreaking technology in the form of
CAQDAS. As a latent technophobe, I was ironically seduced by the allure of
novelty in the use of CAQDAS. I fancied that it correlated with the originality of my
research question and multi-disciplinary approach of my research design:
difference was thus valorised for its own sake. [4]
Situating "where one is coming from" (WOODWARD 2000, p.43) constitutes
making visible or coming clean with my disposition as a novice qualitative
researcher and attendant idiosyncrasies that punctuate one's research design,
execution and at this juncture, one's analyses. As a corollary to such vulnerability,
leaving behind an "audit trail" (MAYKUT & MOREHOUSE 1994, p.135)which
signposts one's conceptualisation phases and practical contingencies culminating
in the final product, the thesis demystifies the research process by rendering it
transparent and the researcher, open to critique or "being found out" by the
experts or even emulation by the inexperienced DEY 1993, p.221). Making an
informed decision about the method(s) of analysis is paramount and entails
revisiting one's methodological assumptions reflexively in an iterative or cyclical
mode (the politics of interpretation is discussed elsewhere). [5]
To that end I will consider a qualitative researcher's fidelity to a grounded theory
approach and the ubiquity of coding in the sections methodology and methods,
respectively. The methods section also offers an evaluation of the
"methodological costs and benefits" (advantages and disadvantages) (KELLE
1997a) of CAQDAS which I had deliberated at length prior to investing in
ATLAS.ti and concludes with a step-by-step data analysis process applied to 27
interview transcripts. [6]

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FQS 3(2), Art. 10, Sharon A. Bong: Debunking Myths in Qualitative Data Analysis

2. Methodology: Primacy of Grounded Theory


The primacy of a grounded theory approach gleaned from (on and off line)
literature on analysing and interpreting qualitative data warrants an assessment
of the extent of its relevance and application to my research. Grounded theory is
listed by John CRESWELL (1998) as one of five research traditions among
biography, phenomenology, ethnography and case study and distinguished in
terms of reporting approaches, philosophical assumptions, data collection
activities including the logic of sampling, data analysis strategies and
representation, rhetorical structures and terms about verification. Grounded
theory's research interest is classified as the "discovery of regularities" and
further defined as "identification (and categorisation) of elements, and exploration
of their connections" among Renata TESCH's categorisation of 26 types of
qualitative research (1990, p.72). [7]
The constant comparative method integral to grounded theory is presented as a
(manual) step-by-step qualitative data analysis: inductive category coding based
on "units of meaning" of textual data, refinement of categories, exploration of
relationship and patterns across categories leading up to an integration of data or
sense-making (MAYKUT & MOREHOUSE 1994, pp.126-149). Grounded theory is
seemingly positioned (particularly as a sales pitch) as "paradigmatic in CAQDAS"
(LONKILA 1995); it is alleged as heralding a "new orthodoxy" or "homogenisation" of methodology (COFFEY, HOLBROOK & ATKINSON 1996); and as a
counter claim, this "mythological status" is debunked (LEE & FIELDING 1996).
This will be more fully discussed in the methods section on CAQDAS use. [8]
While the centrality of grounded theory to qualitative researching/CAQDAS is
contested (as above), its merit in grounding theory in data is not. The rigour of
data collection (sampling and triangulation) and analysis (constant comparative
method) in a grounded theory approach constitutes good practice. This in turn
informs the criteria of sound qualitative research: "validity of data", "reliability of
method" and "generalisability of analyses" (MASON 1996, p.145). The "validity of
data" is premised on a negotiation of the ethical and political dimensions within
the interviewer-interviewee relationship involving informed consent of
interviewees, member check and peer debriefing (MASON 1996, pp.145-146).
Protecting, managing and interpreting data with accountability and sensitivity are
also incumbent on the researcher as a custodian of privileged information. The
"reliability of method" is gauged by the internal coherence of one's research
design, execution and findings or "design principles, data elicitation, data analysis
and knowledge interests" (BAUER & GASKELL 2000, pp.4-5). And the
"generalisability of analyses" is assessed by the degree of transparency in one's
research methods effected by leaving an explicit audit trail (MAYKUT &
MOREHOUSE 1994, p.135), "folklore of fieldwork" (MARSHALL & ROSSMAN
1995, p.111), "folklore techniques" (in reference to the cut-and-paste method of
data analysis as the origin of coding-and-retrieval to the more sophisticated
theory-building capacity of CAQDAS) (KELLE & LAURIE 1995, p.24) or a
corollary "electronic path," a visual (graphic) representation of one's research
process (FIELDING & LEE 1995). [9]
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FQS 3(2), Art. 10, Sharon A. Bong: Debunking Myths in Qualitative Data Analysis

From its inception in the seminal text The Discovery of Grounded Theory
(GLASER & STRAUSS 1974) to its methodological refinement (STRAUSS &
CORBIN 1990), grounded theory's appeal is essentially the generation of theory
from data: it foregrounds data (textual, visual or sound) as the source of theory.1
Theory defined as the relationship among categories, is inductively generated (or
it starts) from "units of meaning or analysis," "theoretical categories" and "codes"
or "nodes" in CAQDAS terminology (TESCH 1990; LONKILA 1995, p.49; KELLE
1997b, paragraph 3.6). Its exploratory research design or inductive reasoning is
thus contrasted with a "hypothetico-deductive" (H-D) explanatory approach or
"deductive reasoning" that codes data for the purpose of hypothesis testing and
not hypothesis generation or theory building. The differentiated modes of coding,
"referential" or "interpretive" in grounded theory as opposed to "factual" or
representational in H-D approach will be elaborated on in the next section
(MASON 1996, p.142; KELLE & LAURIE 1995, p.25; SEIDEL & KELLE 1995,
p.53; KELLE 1997b, paragraphs 3.6-3.9, 4.1). [10]
The consolidation of grounded theory as an established and trustworthy mode of
qualitative inquiry however lends itself to hasty allegiances or false claims of
fidelity to its methodology and method. There are invariable points of commonality and departure with/from grounded theory in relation to my research. [11]
My research considers the extent to which cultures and religions impact on
women's/human rights discourse and activism in Malaysia from a feminist and
post-colonial perspective. The "design principle" or "strategic principle" of the
research (BAUER & GASKELL 2000, pp. 4-5) is a comparative study between
activists-cum-theologians-cum-intellectuals who operate within a rights framework
(based in secular women's/human rights non-governmental organisations or
NGOs) and those who operate within religious-based ones who are engaged with
(principally) Quranic and Biblical hermeneutics and rights. [12]
A point of departure from grounded theory is the hypothesis that drives my
research design. I did not begin with a blank slate. Having indwelled in the
women's/human rights movement in Malaysia for the past decade and standing at
present as an insider/outsider (often at risk of going native), I contend that
cultures and religions do impact the effective translation of women's/human rights
in the context of Malaysia because the articulation and practice of rights is
culturally and religiously contingent. As such, "women's/human rights," "culture"
and "religion" are not mutually exclusive categories. In so doing, I have
presupposed an integral relationship among these categories at the outset of my
research, prior to "data elicitation" (BAUER & GASKELL 2000, pp.4-5) or data
collection and analysis. This seemingly runs counter to the premise of grounding
theory in data. [13]
On the one hand, one could equivocate by quibbling on the definition of
"hypothesis": "the term hypothesis may denote an empirically testable statement
about the exact relation of two defined variables or the term may stand for a
1

BAUER and GASKELL (2000) make this useful distinction.

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tentative and imprecise conjecture about possible relationships between two


domains of interest" (KELLE 1997b, 3.6). [14]
I could lay claim to the definition above that is not incompatible with a grounded
theory approach. But my conjecture is problematically more than imprecise but
less certain than an "exact relation" as I have yet to fully integrate data analysis
or the voices of interviewees with my presuppositions. The dialectical tension
between hypothesis/theory and data cannot be overstated as I do lay claim to a
participatory potential of method (in-depth interviewing and textual analysis)
(SILVERMAN 1998) and an emancipative intent of methodology (feminist and
collaborative) (LATHER 1991; STANLEY 1990). As one eschews a "theoretical
vacuum" or an improbable blank (apolitical) slate, the "impetus to theorise" is
neither first (deductive) nor last (inductive) but iterative or dialectical (MASON
1996, p.142). Or more succinctly, "an open mind is not an empty head" (DEY
1993, p.229). [15]
On the other hand, as I make visible my presuppositions, I also come to terms
with the extent to which I am implicitly, perhaps even surreptitiously testing theory
or hypothesis as it conflicts with an exploratory research paradigm that I have
espoused. The categories "women's/human rights," "culture" and "religion" are
positioned less as empirically testable variables or mutually exclusive categories
as they serve as "heuristic devices" or "analytic tools" to facilitate data analysis
and interpretation and to engender a thick description. A fine grained
hermeneutic analysis thus emerges: the polyphony of the impact of cultures and
religions on activism grounded in professional/vocational and personal narratives
(MASON 1996, p.113; COFFEY, HOLBROOK & ATKINSON 1996, paragraph
7.7; LONKILA 1995, p.49). [16]
As such my sampling strategy serves the combined ends of hypothesis testing
and/through grounded theorising. The main method of empirical data collection is
in-depth, audio-recorded interviews. With reference to the research question or
"intellectual puzzle" (MASON 1996, p.47) which theorises the epistemic and
practical implications of negotiating rights within a cultural and religious
framework, sampling is purposefully homogeneous and heterogeneous. In the
former instance, the shared criterion among 27 interviewees is their privileged
locality at the interface of rights, cultures and religions. They are gatekeepers of
local knowledge and key practitioners in the field of women's/human rights in
Malaysia because they negotiate almost on a daily basis what it means to
translate women's/human rights in their various cultural and religious contexts
within the public/private realms that they inhabit. [17]
Such "elite interviewing", which is defined as a specialised form of interviewing
that focuses on interviewees who are "influential, prominent and well-informed"
marks the homogeneity of sampling (MARSHALL & ROSSMAN 1995, p.83). This
is counterbalanced by an internal diversity afforded by the heterogeneity of
sampling or proliferation of differences based on identity markers of interviewees
such as area of activism/interest, ethnicity, religiosity/spirituality, organisational
affiliation, sexual orientation and geographical location of current activism. [18]
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Homogeneous and heterogeneous samplings that I have employed resonate to


some degree with grounded theory's concept of theoretical sampling where the
"process of data collection is controlled by the emerging theory, whether
substantive or formal ... [and the] criteria are those of theoretical purpose and
relevance" (GLASER & STRAUSS 1974, pp.45-48). The pilot interview and ongoing assessment of the descriptive and interpretive density of interviews already
conducted prompted an increased sampling from the initially proposed 10 to 27 to
provide a richer base for the development of categories towards theory building
or thematic links of categories. [19]
Such ad hoc and preliminary analysis of this modest sampling however departs
from the rigour of theoretical saturation dictated by a grounded theory approach
where sampling is exhausted or saturated only when "no additional data are
being found whereby the [researcher] can develop properties of the category"
(GLASER & STRAUSS 1974, p.61). The yardstick of knowing when to cease
sampling or interviewing in this instance, is less an instinctive act (nor tempered
by interviewing fatigue) than it is an exhaustive and exhausting constant comparative method of data collection in tandem with data analysis ad infinitum. [20]
In addition, the interview format comprising three broad areas of inquiry served as
a hypothesis-guided framework. It provided an invaluable thematic structure for
data analysis and further theorising on the impact of culture and religion on
women's/human rights professionally or vocationally (where activism is voluntary
and not paid as in the former) in the public realm and personally on the domestic
front. It was tested in a pilot interview and refined across 26 semi-structured
interviews where interviewees were asked:
1. to outline their activism from the beginning to present day involvement;
2. to consider cultural and religious factors impacting their activism; and
3. to assess the link (if any) between their faith and their activism. [21]
Sampling, transcribing2, analysis and interpretation constitute theorising as each
phase of the research process is informed by the ethics of inclusion/exclusion of
narrators and their narratives (TESCH 1990, p.114; OCHS 1979; MASON 1996,
p.108; WEAVER & ATKINSON 1994, p.20). Such a theory building enterprise
culminates in an Asian-Malaysian feminist standpoint on politicising spirituality
and spiritualising politics. The former concept centres on faith and praxis in
theologising from the grassroots: in bringing rights into the church (for
Christians), mosque (Muslims), temples (Hindus) and environment (Buddhists
and the indigenous) as a way of life. The latter notion calls for a spiritual grounding of the basic tenets of good governance of a modernising state in terms of
accountability, transparency and equitable distribution of the nation's wealth. [22]
I similarly eschewed a blank slate or "empty head" (DEY 1993, p.229) approach
for sampling and interviewing. I began the highly anticipated phase of data
analysis with a preliminary list of codes which emerged from a pilot analysis of the
2

Transcription is theory (OCHS 1979).

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shortest interview transcript by experimenting on ATLAS.ti's free download


version. The final code list consisted of 31 code families and 406 codes. [23]

3. Method: Primacy of Coding


In the above section I have explored the means by which my research draws from
the good practice of a grounded theory approach to satisfy the criteria of quality
qualitative researching through "validity of data", "reliability of method", and
"generalisability of analyses" (MASON 1996, p.145). [24]
I have elaborated on two points of departure from a grounded theory approach:
firstly, that my research and theoretical maturation are inductively grounded in
data but are guided by a hypothesis which is redefined as a provisional link
among key codes; rights, culture and religion. Secondly, I have employed
theoretical sampling, an integral method of data collection of grounded theory to
the extent that I had conducted elite interviewing with 27 interviewees. This
sampling is both heterogeneous (alluding to permutation of identity markers) and
homogeneous (as knower and doer of rights within a multi-cultural and multireligious context). But the rigour of dialectically (as opposed to sequentially)
feeding data collection into data analysis through a back-and-forth constant
comparative method in order to saturate analysis (as well as sampling) is
approximated but not fully achieved. [25]
The production of texts for analysis through sampling, interviewing and
transcribing concretises the validity of data criterion. It affords the site for the
negotiation of contested meaning through measures such as eliciting informed
consent and member checks to engender what is concealed or revealed and by
whom. As such it makes visible the ethics and politics of inclusion/exclusion that
is a corollary of the power differentials between interviewer-interviewee.
Reconstituting these sites as original texts rather than the more perfunctory label
of raw data divested of meaning, is thus more appropriate. It infers that these
primary texts are valued in itself and as a means to the end of theory building
(SEIDEL & KELLE 1995, p.58; MARSHALL & ROSSMAN 1995, p.113). The
politics of interpretation as such extends (but is not the starting point of) the
negotiation of meaning inherent in the production of these texts for analysis. [26]
In order to proliferate meaning, the interviews are transcribed ad verbatim with
repetitious and incomplete utterances much to the chagrin and embarrassment of
interviewees. I personally transcribed all interviews in the interest of confidentiality
with the added advantage of familiarising myself with its contents. As the average
length of an interview is an hour and a half, the transcripts average between
20-30 pages of single-spaced texts. This is a considerable wealth of information
to organise and make sense of. [27]
For ATLAS.ti use the interviews are re-formatted and saved (originally as Word
documents) as plain texts that is ASCII text with line breaks (WEITZMAN &
MILES 1995). In terms of data storage, multiple back up copies had been made.
Where data is valued as both information and "potential information", its
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discretionary protection, use and dissemination in ensuring the "non-identifiability"


of interviewees, in both "automatic data processing (adp) form" and manual
records (as above including field notes) constitute responsible stewardship of
data (AKEROYD 1991, pp.89-91). [28]
The primary texts (interview transcripts) are thus produced where reliability of
method (of sampling, interviewing and analysis) and the generalisability of
analyses follow through from the validity of data. The dilemma of how to analyse
one's textual data raised at the outset, has been framed methodologically in
assessing the applicability of grounded theory to my research or conversely, my
fidelity to its good practice. Concomitantly, following through the reliability of
method points to coding as a method of data analysis that is corollary to a
grounded theory methodology in particular and in general, to qualitative data
analysis. Although coding "is not the only, the best, or even the preferred method
for the analysis of qualitative data" (LEE & FIELDING 1996, 2.4), notwithstanding
its ubiquity in (on and off line) literature and usage, its merit in organising and
interpreting data is noteworthy.3 [29]
Coding is paradigmatic of the "constant comparative method" of grounded theory
and qualitative data analysis. Its four-step analytic process consists of: 1.
comparing units of meaning across categories for inductive category coding; 2.
refining categories; 3. "delimiting the theory" by exploring relationships and
patterns across categories; and 4. integrating data to write theory (GLASER &
STRAUSS 1974, pp.105-115; MAYKUT & MOREHOUSE 1994, pp.134-145). The
"folklore of fieldwork" (MARSHALL & ROSSMAN 1995, p.111) comprising the
legacy of researchers audit trails posits the centrality of coding. This composite
testament to coding encompasses manual or physical handling of data ("Cut-Upand-Put-in-Folders approach" and the "File-Card system") and CAQDAS
(beginning with word processing programmes or electronic cut-and-paste, data
base managers to sophisticated "third-generation software" or text analysis
software based on basic code-and-retrieve techniques which culminate in
complex theory building) (TESCH 1990, pp.127-134; KELLE 1997b, paragraph
2.6). [30]
To "can (i.e., get rid of)" one's data as Harry WOLCOTT (1990, p.35)
ceremoniously describes data management and interpretation is synonymous
with "data reduction" (MARSHALL & ROSSMAN 1995, p.113), "data distillation"
or "data condensation" (TESCH 1990, p.139). Data analysis is at once conceptual
and organisational, interpretive as well as mechanical. Coding for expedient
retrieval (of categories) and theory building (relationship among categories) involves the pragmatics of breaking down or dissecting one's data into manageable
and meaningful analytical units. Coding as such "is a theorizing process"
(RICHARDS & RICHARDS 1994, p.148) where the ethical and practical
exigencies of inclusion/ exclusion are factored in. [31]

See for instance James GEE (1999) on discourse analysis.

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The conflation of coding with analysis however (WEAVER & ATKINSON 1994,
p.20), heralds "analytic madness" (SEIDEL 1991, p.109) or "analytic pathologies"
(FIELDING & LEE 1998, p.119): viewing coding as an end in itself and not a
means to the end of theory building. This is a pitfall applicable and detrimental to
both manual and CAQDAS methods although it is more marked in the latter as
computer software has the capacity to proliferate coding (FISHER 1999, p.119).
The proliferation of codes in itself is not problematic but it is the proliferation of
codes without or independent of a conceptual framework, that is. And this is
compounded by a less reflexive researcher who is more liable to "hijacking"
(sabotaging) his/her analysis (BARRY 1998, paragraph 2.1). Being enamoured of
coding is not a crime but disengaging it from ones methodological and
epistemological presuppositions, runs the following risks which are variations on
the theme of over-emphasising coding: poorly grounded coding scheme,
prolonging the coding process until the scheme is too unwieldy, coding that takes
over the analysis rather than serve it (FIELDING & LEE 1998, p.119). By the
same token that it is the researcher who drives the analysis, it is the researcher
who is culpable, not the tool (in reference to both manual and CAQDAS
approaches to coding). [32]
As an extension of conflating coding with analysis (in addition to the caveat of
coding for its own sake), other plausible dangers are the "reification of researcher
and data" as well as the "distancing of researcher from data" (WEAVER &
ATKINSON 1994, pp.20-21; SEIDEL 1991, pp.112-114). In the former, the coding
process, an essentially analytical task, is deemed problematic when we
presuppose that meaning is "out there" (inherent in codes and families of codes),
waiting to be discovered by the objective researcher and that multiple
occurrences more viably signifies meaning rather than single occurrences of
categories or codes. Coding with reflexivity or methodological conscientiousness
in recognising that the interpretive act is partial and incomplete and weighing
single or rare or seemingly isolated occurrences (in being receptive to "noises in
data") according to its analytic significance are solutions to this problem
(WEAVER & ATKINSON 1994, p.21). [33]
In the latter, the "distancing of researcher from data" (SEIDEL 1991, pp.112-114)
is another likelihood resulting from the reification of coding where data reduction
that is endemic in analysis, becomes reductive. In other words, coding or
segmenting one's data can unwittingly lead to ones "losing the phenomena" when
coding or decontextualised units of meaning are unintelligible from within
(transcript) and without (alienated from one's conceptual framework) (SEIDEL &
KELLE 1995, p.59). [34]
The commonsensical solutions are to highlight sufficient text when coding
enhanced by an intimate knowledge of one's data and to code towards theory
building in the context of full transcripts and one's overall research design
(SEIDEL & KELLE 1995, pp.60-61). ATLAS.ti automatically attaches appropriate
identifiers (MASON 1996, p.123) to indexing or coded categories for easy
referencing and cross-referencing on-screen and as outputs for audit trails.
These include all details within a Hermeneutic Unit or data structure: names of
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primary documents (which I have assigned according to interviewees'


pseudonyms), date of document(s) worked on, page, paragraph and line
numbers of quotations highlighted and appended codes, memos (analytic notes),
families (containers for type primary documents, codes and memos), results of
the Query Tool towards theory building and networks (meaningful semantic
relationship among coded categories presented graphically as a connection of
nodes). [35]
To recapitulate, two main analytic misconceptions have been debunked: firstly,
the primacy of grounded theory as heralding a new orthodoxy or the
homogenisation of methodology; and secondly, the primacy of coding as imbibed
with coding madness or analytic pathologies premised on the reification of coding
as analysis per se. By logic of extension, the allegations that CAQDAS
compounds these by mythologising grounded theory and supporting the
injunction to code is tenuous and unconvincing as it divests the researcher of
reflexive agency (self-determination) in charting the direction of his/her analysis
(LEE & FIELDING 1996, paragraph 3.1). [36]
Neither is it helpful to stigmatise CAQDAS use by paradoxically positing that it
"destigmatises" qualitative analysis by conferring on the latter the "authority of
science and the prestige of technology" (WEAVER & ATKINSON 1994, p.16) and
thereby serves as a scientific gloss to authenticate qualitative analysis (COFFEY,
HOLBROOK & ATKINSON 1996, paragraph 7.6). It is similarly ludicrous to assert
that CAQDAS from the perspective of technological determinism is invested with
threats of "dehumanisation, mechanisation, quantification and sterilisation" that
are grossly inimical to the virtues of qualitative researching (PFAFFENBERGER
quoted in WEAVER & ATKINSON 1994, p.9). Within the parameters of an overly
rehearsed dualism, that of quantitative/qualitative methodologies and methods,
one is damned if one does (use CAQDAS) and damned if one does not! [37]
The awareness that codes as "heuristic devices" are part of data analysis but
does not constitute it fully (COFFEY, HOLBROOK & ATKINSON 1996, paragraph
7.7; SEIDEL & KELLE 1995, pp.52-53) and the consideration of making "the best
use of available technology" (MASON 1996, pp.127-128) serve as sound
reference points in evaluating the merits and demerits of CAQDAS use.
Essentially mechanical tasks of data analysis are expedited through its code-andretrieve function that in turn enhances the conceptual tasks of theory building.
Data analysis is thus rendered more rigorous, thorough, creative and fun. The
added advantage of CAQDAS as compared to a cut-and-paste method (either
manual or electronic) is the permutation of coding categories and links to
engender a fine-grained hermeneutic analysis (COFFEY, HOLBROOK &
ATKINSON 1996). As such, CAQDAS is neither "a panacea for analytic woes nor
a devil-tool of positivism and scientism" (LEE & FIELDING 1996, 4.5). A costbenefit appraisal of investing in CAQDAS use necessitates a prior familiarity with
qualitative data analysis and subsequently entails fitting packages to analytical
frameworks and not vice versa (FIELDING 1995b).4 [38]
4

For an informed decision on the choice of software from the plethora of genres that exists, see
in particular FIELDING 1995a and 1995b; HENRY 1999; WEITZMAN and MILES 1995.

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FQS 3(2), Art. 10, Sharon A. Bong: Debunking Myths in Qualitative Data Analysis

Consequently, "slicing" (segmenting), "splitting" and "splicing" (subcategorising


and categorising) one's data (MASON 1996, p.111; DEY 1993, pp.231, 276) are
necessary analytic procedures that foreground coding. Cognisant of the pitfalls of
reifying coding and proliferating codes (for its own sake) resulting from an
abeyance of reflexivity, TESCH's two-pronged mechanics of interpretational
qualitative analysis centred on decontextualisation and recontextualisation are
useful guides that reinstate re-categorisation when "slicing," "splitting" and
"splicing" one's data are evinced (1990, pp.115-127). Text segments as such are
doubly contextualised: firstly, within their primary source i.e. transcripts (by having
it always at hand) and subsequently, via their linkages with other categories or
codes towards theory building. [39]
The distinctiveness and complexity of each narrative thus lends itself to a cross
sectional (reminiscent of grounded theory's constant comparative method with a
difference, as described above) and non-cross sectional or holistic analysis of
data (MASON 1996, pp.111-131). This triangulation of method in turn entails
using ATLAS.ti in tandem with a non-computerised method of data analysis
particularly in the final stages of theory building to adequately flesh out the
desired "granularity of codes" as finely (not coarsely) grained (FIELDING & LEE
1998, pp.122, 128) (see audit trail below). [40]
The generalisability of analyses coheres with and follows through generalisations
implied by one's research question and supported by one's sampling strategy as
elaborated in the previous sections on methodology and method (MASON 1996).
The following constitutes not only my analytic procedure informed by the above
deliberations but an audit trail that I hope contributes to the collective
(sociological) memory of folklore techniques of and from the field:
Audit trail
Preparing data for analysis

Generating data through in-depth interviews;

transcribing audio-recorded interviews;

member checking or giving interviewees the opportunity to refine their


transcripts for accuracy or clarity and to delete sections (where necessary)
and to provide me with pseudonyms in the interest of confidentiality;

familiarising myself with the interview transcripts through close readings and
re-listening to its audio-recording for further accuracy, clarity and
understanding;

formatting each transcript for ATLAS.ti compatibility by saving Word


documents as plain text with line breaks (this includes realigning the right
margins with hard returns to halve the length of lines for coding purposes);
and

importing formatted transcripts to ATLAS.ti for analysis. [41]

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FQS 3(2), Art. 10, Sharon A. Bong: Debunking Myths in Qualitative Data Analysis

Data analysis

Reviewing qualitative data analysis literature to consider merits and limits of


CAQDAS use;

experimenting with ATLAS.ti by downloading its free demo version and coding
the shortest interview transcript for an initial code list (guided by hypothesis);

investing in ATLAS.ti and learning its basic functions;

marking free quotations (creating un-coded text segments) to create


manageable units of analysis or text segments in each transcript;

attaching codes from the initial code list to each quotation and building up the
code list;

refining code list by tidying up overlapping codes and checking the


proliferation of codes by an iterative cross-referencing of transcripts;

creating code families when the 27th and final transcript was coded;

manually finding connections between codes towards theory-building; and

mapping this web of connections for presentation of audit trail. [42]

4. Conclusion
In the first Section, I have elucidated the means by which my research draws
from the sound principles and practice of grounded theory to satisfy the criteria of
quality qualitative researching through "validity of data," "reliability of method,"
and "generalisability of analyses" (MASON 1996, p.145). There are however two
points of departure: firstly, that my research and theoretical maturation are
inductively grounded in data but are guided by a hypothesis which is redefined as
a provisional but constitutive link among key codes such as rights, culture and
religion. Secondly heterogeneous and homogeneous samplings that I have used
approximate but do not achieve the rigour of theoretical sampling. In other words,
the centrality of grounded theory is contingent on its application and improvisation
by individual researchers. This in turn, de-mystifies grounded theory's
paradigmatic status in CAQDAS (LONKILA 1995). [43]
In the second Section, two main analytic misconceptions have been further
debunked. Firstly, the primacy of grounded theory as heralding a new orthodoxy
or the homogenisation of methodology (COFFEY, HOLBROOK & ATKINSON
1996); and secondly, the primacy of coding as imbibed with coding madness or
analytic pathologies premised on the reification of coding as analysis per se
(WEAVER & ATKINSON 1994, p.20; SEIDEL 1991, p.109; FIELDING & LEE
1998, p.119). A researcher's reflexivity and agency in charting the direction of his/
her analyses through pragmatic view and use of codes as a means and not as an
end in itself as I have argued would challenge the allegation that CAQDAS
compounds these myths by mythologising grounded theory and supporting the
injunction to code (LEE & FIELDING 1996). CAQDAS use thus facilitates the
rigour of methodology and the transparency of method as manifested in one's
audit trail that in essence constitutes research that is accountable, innovative and
effective. [44]
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FQS 3(2), Art. 10, Sharon A. Bong: Debunking Myths in Qualitative Data Analysis

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Author
Sharon A. BONG is currently completing her PhD
research which draws from her exposure to and
involvement with the feminist movement at
national, regional and international levels, and
considers the impact of cultures and religions on
women's human rights in the context of Malaysia.
She has also worked as a Programme Officer with
ARROW (the Asian-Pacific Resource and
Research Centre for Women) and as a feature
writer with the New Straits Times Press, Malaysia.
She is a PhD candidate with the Department of
Religious Studies, Lancaster University, Lancaster
LA1 4YG, United Kingdom.

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Contact:
Sharon A. Bong
Department of Religious Studies
Lancaster University
Lancaster LA1 4YG
United Kingdom
E-mail: bongsa@hotmail.com

FQS 3(2), Art. 10, Sharon A. Bong: Debunking Myths in Qualitative Data Analysis

Citation
Bong, Sharon A. (2002). Debunking Myths in Qualitative Data Analysis [44 paragraphs]. Forum
Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 3(2), Art. 10, http://nbnresolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0202107.
Revised 2/2007

2002 FQS http://www.qualitative-research.net/fqs/